I have been self-employed for 4 years. This post will outline 25 things categorised into 10 major areas that I consider to be ‘Positive Assets’ for my business as I have decided to base my operations from home. I often joke that the job is based in the car, but I do try to be at home 2 if not 3 days a week.
Working in reverse order of ultimate importance to my business, but listed in terms of easiest to tackle first:
A definite space
I have placed two small desks and an ergonomic chair into the big spare bedroom in the house – we have visitors a few times a year so room has to play a dual role. It has plenty of natural light. It is upstairs so is removed somewhat from the rest of the house. I would have to move to make a cup of tea and it is definitely away from the TV. It also has its own door. I have consciously kept the foot-print of the office very small. This includes half a bookshelf as my aim is to have a 99% paper free office and thereby remove the need for storage. This means that the office is easy to keep tidy and organised. It is important to have a quiet place to work – it is very important that there are no kids here during the workday.
A good car
I travel to meeting with clients and to deliver training workshops. I am delighted to have a 2.0 Avensis which to my mind is a super reliable and comfortable car (Diesel so that one can reclaim the VAT).
Access to meeting space
Most clients are happy for me to travel to meet them at their offices. However, I do spend a fair amount of time in hotel lobbies and café areas. I find the Clayton Hotel in Galway to be ideal as it has a nice atmosphere, good coffee and free WiFi. The Quality Hotel in Oranmore is also great and in Limerick, the set up in the Kilmurry Lodge is really good. I generally select Hotels that offer free parking and are easy to find, reducing time wasted with directions.
As a professional service provider, I have no issue telling clients, and it is outlined on my website, that I am based from home and will travel to meet them. This seems to create an impression of a level of flexibility, personal attention and of ‘good value’ pricing compared to competitors who are seen to be using bigger overheads to justify their prices. My aim was always to charge market level fees and I am very lucky in that most of my clients are project based so I can charge per day prices at the market rate and still select the businesses I want to work with.
Good IT System
I am fairly IT literate. Here are the ten elements I consider most important in a good, cost effective IT System for someone based in a home office:
1. I bought a laptop (HP ProBook 4510s) four years ago when I started but perhaps the best thing was the second screen. It cost a €100 in Argos and is a life saver in terms of productivity when working on several software packages at the one time.
2. I also bought a USB hub so all I have to do is plug in one cable to the laptop when in the office and I have a wireless mouse, external hard drive and a printer all connected in one (similar to but cheaper than a docking station).
3. I bought a spare laptop lead (less than €10 online). It is just too easy to rush out of the house without a cable or to forget to pack the cable when on the way home.
4. I am a big dropbox fan. I have referred lots of people and have 20MB of space all for free. This is fantastic as it takes care of all back up in one move. I still have an external hard drive which I back up maybe every six months.
5. I bought a second laptop last year The original is still going strong but doesn’t really appreciate being moved anymore. I need reliable IT and I wanted to see what all the fuzz was with Windows 8. I bought another HP laptop so the cables are the same. With dropbox all my files are synced.
6. I also use Mozilla Firefox and Chrome – They have sync services for internet bookmarks and Firefox has a password manager built in with a master password when the browser is launched. I also have a master password protected Excel file with all my passwords – I must have almost 200 different accounts at this stage.
7. Good broadband at home – The WiFi is 6MB download from Sky and is as good as any shared office facility in the locality. No reliability problems at all. It also has a decent upload speed for updating the website. [I designed and update my own website as it is part of my self-sufficiency drive. It was a great learning experience].
8. A good mobile phone and phone tariff.
I recently upgraded to the Samsung Galaxy S5. It is fantastic. I get maybe 3 days battery life and it has everything from email, social media, dropbox and the internet and of course my calendar and contacts which I keep in Gmail so that they are available on the laptops also. I have a Bluetooth car kit and plan phone calls for my longer drives. My monthly tariff with eMobile is brilliant – €34.50 for all texts, phone calls to any network and all my data.
The fixed line to the house is not used for business but if I needed one, Skype do offer fixed line numbers with any prefix or location of your choice, with calls diverted to your mobile.
9. I bought an iPad 3 years ago. I use it for:
– Quickly reviewing emails.
– Calendar via Gmail account.
– Keeping up to date with Social Media between meetings and listening to Podcasts.
– iBooks and Kindle for free eBooks
– Notability for making notes with my Maglus Stylus and signing pdfs. It is very efficient as original files are in Dropbox.
If needed a small business like mine could process credit card payments using an App on the iPad. At the moment I am not involved with online selling. I could do this from home and perhaps eLearning and digital content is something that I will embrace in the future, but for the moment it is not part of the mix.
10. A good Printer
I was very lucky in that a friend of mine is an IT Manager in a big company. When they were upgrading their printers, he sold me a second hand DELL MPF Laser printer that they were no longer using. I paid €800 at the time but it was worth 2 or 3 times that with the ink cartridges and other spare parts thrown in. It sits in neatly beside the desk. I mentioned that I try to have a paperless office but as a Training provider, I pride myself on good notes. I can now easily print out say 10 sets of handouts with say 30 pages, printed front and back in full colour in about an hour. I got that priced in a shop one day and it was over €100 plus VAT. The cartridges are expensive but overall I am delighted with my purchase. The printer has a scanner which I sometimes use but I prefer Notability on the iPad as most people can email me the original documents in pdf.
Simple Accountancy System
I studied accountancy at 3rd level for a few years but it is not my major area of qualification. Normally, I tell clients to get a good accountant but in my own case, I do it all myself. I have a client who is an accountant so I can get a second opinion when needed.
1. Prepare all invoices in Excel
If you prepare all invoices in Excel and issue them in pdf by email, you just have to store them electronically (not in paper format).
2. Maintain record of all expenses
I use Excel to record all receipts. I put them all in a folder every time I collect one until the end of the month. Then once a month, I will input all receipts in the Spreadsheet and work out the VAT element. It only takes an hour. I could use an accounts package but I don’t really need one. My Balance Sheet is zero.
3. Business Bank account
The business has a separate business bank account. It just keeps things nice and tidy and has limited cost over the year. Most clients pay directly into your Bank account. eDay is coming up in Ireland soon – after this all payments to and from Government agencies in Ireland will be electronic. This year I added my SEPA Bank account details. I never had a Chequebook. I also don’t have online banking as AIB are very expensive for that. They have new machines in each branch and I am passing a branch as often as I need to, so can lodge cheques and make online payments as required. I also have a RaboDirect and Paypal accounts as these are very easy to manage online.
4. ROS – Revenue Online Service
The business is registered for VAT in Ireland so ROS is used to submit VAT returns and make payments every two months (e.g. 19th of September for the months of July and August). Each year, I use ROS to submit my tax return online and pay preliminary and final tax bill. I find Revenue very good to deal with in terms of customer service. In particular, Tax Clearance Certificates are issued on a very timely basis once a request is submitted.
I think it is very important to have clear visibility of how much money one is spending, how much the business is generating in terms of revenue, what invoices are issued and how much is outstanding. If you know what you are doing, this is very easy to do for oneself at home. I have a big green plastic container for filing all my financial information which has to be retained in Ireland for 7 years.
Get out of the Building
I am a big fan of ‘lean startup’ and am borrowing Steve Blank’s famous phrase here to illustrate that a self employed person based from a home office, must get out of the house. It is very important in general to take a proactive approach to business development. But I am also referring in general to meeting existing and former clients. It is very important to have a social dimension to your work. Talking to people, even small talk, keeps you sane. I keep in regular contact with clients and they ‘expect’ me to drop in with a few days notice. I also attend a certain amount of networking events and I have the benefit of delivering one or two training sessions most weeks in the busy months.
Talking to customers and clients is all very well, but sometimes you need to discuss your business in detail, warts and all. This is where a business friend or contact can be very helpful to allow you to rationalise the business and consider how things can be changed. I have personally found ‘self employement’ to be very invigorating. I have read way more books and increased my skills and knowledge since I left my public sector job. I have been pushed to be better and am a lot happier as a result. It is certainly one reason why I can see myself doing this for a few more years. But an external perspective is very important as it is not easy to evaluate your own business when you are working so closely in it.
Allied to this is working with partners and being part of consortia of like minded businesses for tenders and sales proposals so that more valuable contracts can be secured. Just because you are based at home, your ambition does not have to be limited.
Be organised – get things done (GTD)
I think that to be based from home, one has to be organised. There is a danger that time will not just fly but wilt away. A few years ago, I read a fantastic book called ‘Getting Things Done’ by David Allen. The author makes a fantastic point that you have to declutter in order to give your mind time to think. This requires having a system whereby you have listed all your priorities and tasks and have set up a reminder system that works. For me that is a simple ‘to do’ list that I update every few days (I also replicate it in Google Tasks and manage some shared projects with Asana.com).
The point is made that in these busy times all home, sport, family based tasks must be included for your list in order for the system to work. Because everything needs to get done in a timely fashion and not giving something the time when it needs it, allows it to be late and to bubble to the surface at exactly the wrong time causing havoc to your entire schedule. I consider that I had an issue at work in all my jobs in that I didn’t know when to take a break. I would get focused on something and hours would pass. But this is not a good way to work. One ideally should take short 5 minute breathers and then go back to the task in hand. So now I consciously do the laundry at home. I can put on a wash, do some work, and come down two hours later to move the laundry to the dryer or ideally spend 5 minutes outside putting it on the line. This is all legitimate break time and brain downtime but it has a purpose and at the end of the week the laundry is ready for ironing.No need to feel guilty at all even if this point goes against almost everything one reads about working from home.
To continue the point, the two kids come home from crèche at 5pm with my wife (she works in a big office), and for our house to work, they need dinner fairly quickly as they are in bed within 3 hours. So on the days that I am at home, I take 10 minutes to prep some part of the dinner at lunchtime. I will be looking at the clock to try to get everything done so that I can make the dinner at around 4.30PM. If I need to collect the kids, I will arrange meetings with clients near to where their crèche is, ensuring full value for my hour round trip. I am not sure how parents of young kids cope with a ‘proper’ job and the hours entailed by most professional services in the private sector.
I will also ‘schedule’ time for exercise during the week. There is a lovely hill near us so once a week or so I can do an hour long run at lunchtime and be back at the desk within 2 hours. On busier weeks, the treadmill for 20 minutes is a good substitute.I think it is very important for energy levels and a positive outlook but there is very limited time for ‘non family’ activity outside of work hours. I am not sure how some guys get away with going golfing for 4 hours at the weekend!
Good Mindset and Attitude
I am not too sure how applicable working from home is for every business but for me and my business it definitely works. I really enjoy it. I could actually get a lovely fully serviced office in a shared facility for about €400 a month. That is not expensive and the business could absorb it. But as I mentioned earlier, clients have no problem with it. They don’t expect to see a fancy office. I don’t have employees so I don’t need a base for anyone only myself. Even a 30 minute commute to an office seems a lot when all I have to do is walk upstairs. This week I am out of the office two days and will be in the car for about 10 hours. I probably do in excess of 15,000 business miles a year. I think that embracing the advantages of ‘self employment’ and working from home is key to success.
I was listening to the radio today and it was noted that 2 of the most important factors in ‘Happiness’ are Relationships (addressed in points 4 and 5) and Purpose, which is a feeling that what you do matters (points 3 and 2). So if you have a business that you enjoy, then being based at home can be a big advantage to overall work/ life balance, particularly if you can still find a way to engage meaningfully with other people and not just for monetary reasons.
I know that a big concern with being based from home is the temptation to work long hours. But I know I would work longer hours if I had an office outside the house and would probably still bring work home. Kids are great to drag you away. I do look at my emails after hours and will respond if it is warranted but most of the time, there is nothing that urgent. In busy periods of the year, I do the hours when needed so that I can maintain my reputation by keeping the promises that I have made. So far business is going very well, and unless I make a conscious decision to scale up significantly, I will be based from my home office for the foreseeable future.
Hope you enjoyed this post. I look forward to the views of the TYB community – hopefully there will be strong agreement or disagreement with some of the points.
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